Verizon’s Droid and the Importance of Pinching

By  |  Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Android CrabWhen I compared the Verizon Droid to the iPhone 3GS last week, I said that the Droid didn’t have multi-touch input–based on the fact that I’d used it a lot and encountered no instances when it did. A commenter said that the phone did indeed support multi-touch, and I tweaked my item. Essentially, the phone is capable of multi-touch; it just chooses not to use it.

Today, Rob Jackson of Phandroid pointed out that the Android image editor Picsay uses multi-touch, and serves as proof that the Droid can do it. He’s right, and Picsay shows the power of controlling your phone with more than one finger at a time. As with iPhone applications, it lets zoom in and out of images by pulling and pinching them. It’s wonderfully fluid–at least as good as the iPhone’s multi-touch.

Android MapsIt’s also preferable to the approach to zooming used in the Droid’s standard apps: In them, you double-tap to zoom in, or use zoom/shrink buttons that appear in the lower left-hand side of the screen. That works well enough–it’s certainly not an argument against buying a Droid–but you lose the precision of pinching and pulling, and it just feels clunkier overall. And given that Picsay is proof positive that some Android apps do use iPhone-style multi-touch, the Droid will suffer from basic inconsistencies in its user interface.

How come the Droid doesn’t make multi-touch a core part of its experience? It’s possible that only people who work for Verizon Wireless, Motorola, or Google know for sure. The logical assumption is that the Droid’s makers doen’t want to run afoul of Apple’s multi-touch patents, but Engadget’s Nilay Patel has a smart post up with plenty of evidence that pinching and pulling are in the clear. (Among them: The Palm Pre, Zune HD, and Windows 7 all incorporate the gesture much as it appears on the iPhone.)

Patel theorizes that it’s possible that Google simply hasn’t gotten around to enabling multi-touch in Android 2.0’s apps. That seems like an odd theory–it is, after all, the gesture that’s more or less synonymous with next-generation smartphones–but it doesn’t seem any less likely than any other possibility.

One way or another, I agree with Jeffrey Sambells, who says that gestures are language and should be consistent on multiple platforms. Or to think of it a slightly different way: I know that if I want to search for something on a desktop computer or laptop, I can press <Ctrl><F> (or its Mac counterpart, <Command><F>) in virtually any application. Aren’t touchscreen gestures pretty much the modern equivalent of keyboard shortcuts? Shouldn’t they be equally standardized?


Read more: , ,

6 Comments For This Post

  1. Will Says:

    The proof that it can work is in Motorola’s GSM version of the phone. I don’t believe this phone is available in the U.S. Motorola “Milestone”

    If you compare the specs side by side with the Droid, the main difference is under the Interface options. Pinch and Zoom are listed for the Milestone which is running the same OS and hardware. It only differs in that it is GSM. It must be fear of a patent war with Apple not to implement this for U.S. usage. From what I understand, the only reason the Palm-PRE has these features is because of the large number of patents PALM holds that may or may not be used by Apple and other companies. If Apple where to fight Palm, Palm may have some ammo.

  2. heulenwolf Says:

    I think pinch to zoom is a great idea and I love its implementation on my iPod Touch. I thought of these two possible explanations:
    1) An optimistic explanation: Perhaps they didn’t implement it in the included Android Apps with the Droid because its a two-handed gesture. A zoom button is a one-handed gesture and, while significantly less slick and fluid, gets the job done. Placing two fingers on the screen ties up that hand, requiring the other hand to hold the device or, at least, stabilize it so you can perform the sensitive gesture accurately. Given that Motorola’s selling a car-mount kit for turn-by-turn navigation – one of the Droid’s killer features – perhaps they didn’t want to encourage users to do unsafe things while driving. Its much easier to show someone a photo on your phone with one hand and zoom with your thumb on small buttons in the corner, as well, than by covering up most of the screen with your pinching hand. Perhaps they thought a one-handed interface was the way to go in situations where you’re not entering text.
    2) A pessimistic(-ish) explanation: Consider who “they” are. Three massive companies came together for this product and had to agree on how it would work – Motorola, Google, and Verizon – each with significant investment in its success. If that many lawyers and executives were involved and pinch to zoom is the only feature they couldn’t agree on, then they did wonderfully. Apple, by contrast, developed the iPhone hardware and software together then shopped around for a carrier. They claim in their letter to the FCC that the carrier has no input on the applications. Apple only had one person to impress with the iPhone’s features: a person with a well-documented dislike for buttons.

  3. david griffin Says:

    Everything is obvious in hindsight. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t still be protected by a patent.

  4. Duker Says:

    I use the pinch and pull on the Palm Pre all the time. It is a really nice feature.

  5. jamesjones Says:

    Google is providing a FREE OS. If it were to include a patented technique such as Pinch and Zoom (assuming apple does indeed have this patent), they would have to LICENSE the technology, and therefore could not offer a FREE OS.

    The HTC hero is reported to have pinch and zoom. This is likely because HTC licensed the technique themselves and included the licensing fees in their costs.

  6. Mark K. Says:

    One would think that making a phone call from point X would be equally standard whether using service provider A or V. Unfortunately A sucks.